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The doctrine of last things

Second Coming

1. Introduction

The study of last things—the end times—is perhaps one of the most controversial studies in the church today. There are some that believe that if we do not believe in the pre-tribulational rapture that we are unsaved, or are gnostics.1 Right off the bat I want to state that I do not believe in the pre-tribulational rapture, but rather in a post-tribulational rapture—simply the Second Coming of Christ—without any of the pre-tribulational escapist ideas.

2. Some differing views on the Millennium

There are basically four ideas concerning the return of Christ and the times following that return.

No future millennium. The church age is followed by the return of Christ, which is followed by the eternal state.
Also know as “Classical” or “post-tribulational” premillennialism. After the church age will be the tribulation which will be followed by the return of Christ which in turn will usher in the millennium. The millennium is followed by the eternal state.
Also known as “pre-tribulational” premillennialism. The church age is followed by the rapture—catching up of believers—which is followed by the tribulation. Christ returns again after the tribulation, which ushers in the millennium. The millennium is followed by the eternal state.
Christ returns after the millennium. The gospel will keep on influencing the world to a larger degree until a long millennial period of peace and righteousness occurs. At the end of this period Christ will return. Only then the eternal state will follow.
Table 1: Three main views of the end times

2.1 Inadequate Views of the millennium

2.1.1 Amillennialism

Figure 1: Amillennialism2

According to this system, there will be no earthly, thousand-year reign of Christ. First, the Second Coming of Christ will inaugurate the final age and state for believers and unbelievers. Second, the one thousand years of Rev 20 are not literal, but symbolical. Third, the two resurrections of Rev 20—contrary to premillennialism—do not require an intermediate millennium. Fourth, contrary to most premillennial views on Old Testament prophecies, these prophecies are not as literal as are contended by premillennialists. Fifth, there will not be a world-wide growth of the gospel and righteousness. Sixth, the Second Coming of Christ is imminent.

2.1.2 Postmillennialism

Figure 2: Postmillennialism

First, according to postmillennialism, the kingdom of God is primarily a present reality. The kingdom of God is the rule of God in the hearts of men. There is no cataclysmic coming of a future kingdom. Second, there will be a conversion of all nations before Christ returns. The preaching of the gospel will permeate all of human society. Third, there will be a long period of peace on earth known as the millennium. As more people subject themselves to the gospel, peace will start reigning in the earth. The millennium is not a literal thousand years. Fourth, God’s kingdom will experience a gradual growth upon the earth. Some postmillennialists believe that the church age is the millennium. Fifth, a time of apostasy and evil will occur at the end of the millennium that will introduce the coming of the antichrist. Sixth, the end of the millennium will come with the physical return of Christ. Seventh, the return of Christ will be followed by the resurrection of believers and unbelievers, followed by the judgement of all. Eighth, some believe that the Jews will be converted close to the end.

2.2 Premillennialism

Classical/Historical Premillennialism
Figure 3: Classical/Historical Premillennialism

First, the earthly reign of Christ is established by His Second Coming. Some believe that this reign is exactly one thousand years. Others believe it should be taken less literal. Second, the millennium will be inaugurated in a cataclysmic fashion at the return of Christ. There will be no gradual process of growth to a new righteousness on the earth. Third, a deterioration of the people of this earth will precede the millennium. Fourth, a great tribulation will precede the millennium. Some believe that the church will be removed from the earth just prior to the tribulation by a secret “rapture.” Others believe the church will be part of the tribulation. Fifth, the return of Christ after the tribulation will inaugurate a thousand years of imprisonment for Satan and his demons. Sixth, Satan and his demons will be released at the end of the millennium for a short time to tempt the people of the earth. Then he and his demons will be thrown in the lake of fire.

Figure 4: Pretribulational/Dispensational Premillennialism

3. Some differing views on the Tribulation

3.1 Dispensationalism

Before examining the various tribulational views, we need to notice the theological and hermeneutical system known as dispensationalism. Some regard it as tantamount to pretribulationalism, but this identification needs to be qualified in two respects: First, dispensationalism is more than a view of the relationship of Christ’s coming to the tribulation. It is a whole system of theology, of which eschatology is but one part. Further, it is a method of interpreting the Bible, therefore affecting one’s understanding of even nondoctrinal portions of the Scripture. And second, while all dispensationalists are pretribulationists, not all pretribulationists are dispensationalists.3

The truth of the pretribulationist point of view is implied by dispensationalism.

A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God…The purpose of each dispensation, then, is to place man under a specific rule of conduct, but such stewardship is not a condition of salvation.4

According to many dispensationalists, time can be broken up roughly into seven dispensations:5

  • Innocence – Gen 1:28
  • Conscience – Gen 3:7
  • Human Government – Gen 8:15
  • Promise – Gen 12:1
  • Law – Ex 19:1
  • Church – Ac 2:1
  • Kingdom – Rev 20:4

3.1.1 Beliefs of Dispensationalism  Literal interpretation

At the heart of dispensationalism is that the Bible must be interpreted literally. This literalness is upheld as long as prophecy is studied. However, a tendency among dispensationalists exists to interpret historical or narrative data in a typological manner almost to the point of allegory.  Distinction between Israel and the church

Dispensationalists hold to a very definite distinction between Israel and the church. The claim by dispensationalists is that God made a covenant with Abraham, which then flows through to Israel, that is unconditional. Being unconditional, this covenant must then be honoured by God and fulfilled in its minutest detail. The church is simply a substitute for Israel, while the kingdom of Israel is being postponed until the fullness of the Gentiles. However, apart from their carefully selected passages that seem to favour their position, it is difficult to maintain this distinction of Israel and the church. Dispensationalism is therefore Israeli-centric and not Christo-centric. Dispensationalism fails to interact with Jesus when He told the Jews that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Mt 21:43 ESV)  “Kingdom of heaven” differs from “kingdom of God”

Dispensationalists differentiate between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. This distinction is based on the notion that most of the parables that concern the kingdom of heaven found in Mt 13 can not be found in Mark and Luke. This kingdom of heaven is seen as Jewish, hence Messianic and of the line of David. This kingdom was postponed at the rejection of the King (Jesus).

On the other hand, the kingdom of God is a universal kingdom, which includes all saints of all dispensations. This kingdom also includes the angels.

In order to maintain this distinction is to be devious in Biblical exegesis. Simply put, the passages that are parallel to Mt 13 in Mark and Luke use “kingdom of God” instead of “kingdom of heaven.” The fact that dispensationalists see “kingdom of heaven” as related to the Jewish kingdom, makes it extremely difficult to reconcile it with the fact that dispensationalists also see the church as moving onto a heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom of Israel is to be restored.

3.2 Pretribulationism

Pretribulationism is inextricably tied to dispensationalism. It can be said that all dispensationalists are pretribulationists. Yet, not all pretribulationists are dispensationalists.

3.2.1 Beliefs of Pretribulationism  Greatest tribulation ever

In the eyes of pretribulationists, the great tribulation of which Matthew writes, is going to be the mother of all tribulations. It is seen as the worst tribulation ever. For the pretribulationist, the tribulation has two purposes: (a) the conclusion of the times of the Gentiles as mentioned in Lk 21:24; and (b) the preparation for the final ingathering of Israel in the millennium. The tribulation is simply a transition period between the church age and the restored earthly kingdom of Israel.  Pretribulational rapture

The most important belief for any pretribulationist is the rapture. It is believed by pretribulationists that Jesus will return just prior to the great tribulation and we will be caught up in the air to meet Jesus and return to heaven. At this return of Jesus He simply comes for the saints without putting foot on earth (1 Thes 4:17). This rapture is to remove the church from the earth to prevent them from experiencing the great tribulation. This idea of the church escaping the wrath of God on earth comes from Paul’s writing when he says “God has not destined us for wrath” (1 Thes 5:9 ESV). Our escape from God’s wrath is also gleaned from Rev 3:10. Since the tribulation will be a time of God’s wrath being poured out on earth, it seems unsuitable for Christians to be on earth. However, this whole issue of God’s wrath in the tribulation and the pretribulational insistence that the church will not endure God’s wrath and therefore needs to be raptured depends on a very strained interpretation of the relevant texts.

The apostle John wrote the most detailed prophecy concerning the tribulation and the coming of Christ. How is it that he forgot to write at least one line describing the return of Jesus before the tribulation?

Tim Lahaye from the Left Behind series writes concerning Rev 4:1

[John’s] elevation to heaven is a picture of the Rapture of the church just before the Tribulation begins...John obviously represents the church.6

With this kind of interpretation we can make almost anything mean anything else. Maybe Paul being “caught up to the third heaven” is a picture of the rapture of the saints to heaven? (2 Cor 12:2) To say that “John obviously represents the church” is to force a meaning—the rapture—into the text that does not exist.

Pretribulationists make a lot about the fact that the word “church” does not appear in Rev 4-18. To them this is convincing proof that The church had already been removed from the earth through the rapture.

However, does it mean the church was raptured before chapter 4? Hardly? Let’s look at some pointers.

  1. Words that elsewhere in the New Testament refer to the church are also used in chapters 4-18. These words naturally refer to the church. It is not that we have to force them to. God’s people (18:4; see 2 Cor 6:16); witnesses (11:3; 17:6; see Ac 1:8; 13:31); God’s servants (7:3; 19:2, 5; see Ac 2:18; 4:29) and saints (13:7, 10).
  2. Church does not appear in any of John’s description of heavenly scenes in chapters 4-18. Does this then imply that the church is not present in heaven, just like the absence of church in earthly scenes supposedly implies that the church is not present on earth?
  3. Church in chapters 1-3 refers to particular local churches in a certain Roman province, while the tribulation described in chapters 4-18 has to do with the whole Roman Empire. This is why references to the saints are more general in nature.
  4. Church does not appear in the scenes of Christ’s return after the tribulation. Does this mean the church is not there?

To say the word church does not appear in Rev 4-18 and therefore the church is not present during that time is like saying the word trinity is not present in the Bible and therefore the Trinity does not exist! If I stop talking about something, does that mean it does not exist? That  is exactly what the “pre-tribulationists” do with the church from Rev 4-18!

1 Cor 15:51-52 and 1 Thes 4:13-18 deal with the transformation and second coming, but do not mention the church! Church is not found in 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John and Jude. Do we conclude from this that the promises and instructions in these epistles do not pertain to us because the term church does not occur there? Should we throw out the book of Esther because the word God is never used in it? There are many other terms that refer to the church: elect, saved, light(s), spiritual house, Christians, believers, servants, disciples, ambassadors, household of faith, priesthood, chosen race, flock, body of Christ, holy nation, children of God, bride, etc.  Raptured saints return with Christ after tribulation

It is believed that the raptured Christians will return triumphantly with Christ at the end of the great tribulation. At this point Christ will set up His millennial kingdom on earth.  Imminent rapture

Pretribulationists believe that Christ can come at anytime without warning. This is their doctrine of imminence. There are no events that must be fulfilled before the rapture.

What about passages saying the Lord is near? How can the Lord be near and yet not be expected at any moment? (Rom 13:11-12; Phil 4:5; Heb 10:25; Js 5:8-9). The problem is that language of nearness is used elsewhere to describe the return of Christ after the tribulation (Mt 24:33; Mk 13:29; Lk 21:28). Pre-tribulationism needs near to mean any moment. Compare 1 Pet 4:7 and the near passages in Jn 2:13; 6:4; 7:2 and 11:55. The Jewish festivals mentioned in John were events set on the calendar and was incapable of happening at any moment.

Can Christ return at any moment? Did Christ not say that “of that day and hour no one knows?” When Jesus said these words in Mt 24:36 the context is clear. Jesus was talking about His own return, which He clearly set after the tribulation (Mt 24:29-31).

3.3 Posttribulationism

3.3.1 Beliefs of posttribulationism  Church not removed from earth

The very nature of this view is that the church is not removed from the earth before or during the tribulation. Pretribulationists argue that the church will not be exposed to God’s wrath. This is not disputed. However, this point was already handled in the section called “Pretribulational rapture.” The great tribulation is inflicted in part by non-Christians and the devil on others on the earth. During this time, the wrath of God—which overlaps the great tribulation—will be poured out on the wicked. This can be verified by reading about the intended recipients of the seven bowls of God’s wrath.

Rev 3:10—a proof text of pretribulationism—does not have to mean we are removed from the earth. 1 Thes 5:9 says that “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In this passage, not being destined for wrath has nothing to with not being destined for the tribulation. The salvation talked of is not from the tribulation, but salvation from our sins through the death of Christ (v10).

The seven bowls of Revelation are specifically called the “bowls of the wrath of God.” The seven bowls are aimed at:

  1. “people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”
  2. “every living thing in the sea died.”
  3. those who “poured out the blood of saints and prophets.”
  4. given “to scorch men with fire” causing them to blaspheme the name of God and not to repent so as to give God glory.
  5. “on the throne of the beast” and they blasphemed God.
  6. opens the Euphrates to allow God’s enemies through to Armagedon.
  7. against Babylon and the cities of the world, and they blasphemed God.

These bowls are not directed at Christians. No harm is to be done until God’s servants are sealed (Rev 7:1-3). Rev 3:10 tells us that Christians are to be kept from the hour of testing. Does this mean that Christians will be taken out of this world before the tribulation?

Hardly! The only other place keep from appears in the New Testament Greek is in Jn 17:15. Again, it is John using the phrase. There it clearly means protection in the world from evil. To be kept from anything does not conjure up the meaning of removal from to the logical mind. Rather, it points a picture of being in a situation, yet kept from the harm associated with that situation.

Christian relief from persecution will not occur at a rapture before the tribulation, but “when the Lord Jesus will be revealed [WHEN?] from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” (2 Thes 1:7 NASB). This is at the end of the tribulation.

1 Thes 5:9 says that “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In this passage, not being destined for wrath has nothing to with not being destined for the tribulation. The salvation talked of is not from the tribulation, but salvation from our sins through the death of Christ (v10).

There are two Greek words that are translated into the English “wrath.” They are thumos (θυμος) and orgē (οργη).

[I]t becomes clear that when each is used alone of God’s feelings, θυμος is used of short-term punishments upon man’s body or environment, while οργη shows His final judgment, particularly as it relates to man’s final judgment.7

God’s thumos is only used against the wicked (Rev 14:8, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). The same goes for God’s orgē. Only the wicked are victims of God’s orgē (Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18; 2 Thes 1:8; Rev 6:16-17; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15). In fact Scripture tells us believers are “not destined…for wrath” (1 Thes 5:9) but “Jesus [is the One] who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes 1:10). We are “saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Rom 5:9)

On the other hand, in relation to the common word for tribulation in the Greek—thlipsis (θλιψις - noun) and thlibō (θλιβω - verb)—we find that together the verb and noun occur fifty-five times in the New Testament of which forty-seven are directly related to the tribulation experienced by saints. This tribulation, is not inflicted upon the saints by God, but by Satan and the Antichrist. We were warned by Jesus and Paul of tribulation for those who put their trust in Christ (Jn 16:33; Rom 5:3).  Meeting the Lord in the air

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thes 4:17 ESV)

This is probably the best known verse by any pretribulationist. This is the verse that defines the rapture for them. However, for the posttribulationist, this “catching up” and “meeting of the Lord in the air” occurs at the end of the tribulation.

The word “meet” in the Greek of this verse is apantēsis (απαντησις). This noun occurs in only three places in the New Testament. The other two—apart from 1 Thes 4:17—are Mt 25:6 and Ac 28:15. In neither the Matthew or Acts passages does apantēsis have the meaning of meeting someone, just to turn around and leave again. In the passage in Matthew the virgins go out to meet the bridegroom and then to escort him into town for the feast. The passage in Acts tells us the story of Paul’s last visit to Rome. At this occasion the believers in Rome went out to meet Paul and his companions went out “as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet” them. However, Paul and his companions did not turn around at this point but carried on into Rome.

This means—for the use of apantēsis—that in 1 Thes 4:17, at the return of Christ, those that are dead in Christ will rise first and together with the believers who are still alive will all be “caught up” into the air to meet the Lord and to accompany Him to earth. To suggest a withdrawal back to heaven at this point simply is eisegesis.

[apantēsis] is used in the papyri of a newly arriving magistrate. “It seems that the special idea of the word was the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary.” (Moulton, Greek Test. Gram. Vol. I, p. 14).8

When are we gathered to the Lord? Before the tribulation or after?

In 2 Thes 1:7-12, Paul describes the coming of the Lord from heaven with His mighty angels. Compare this with Jesus’ description of His return in Mt 24:30-31. Jesus places His return after the tribulation (Mt 24:29). Looking at the rest of the context of 2 Thes 1:7-12 (2 Thes 1:7-2:13), we can see that our gathering to Him will not occur unless the rebellion occurs first and the antichrist is revealed. This means our gathering occurs after the tribulation.

Again, let’s look at 1 Thes 4:13-18 (context – 1 Thes 4:13-5:11). In this classic rapture passage (v17), Paul writes concerning its circumstances of a shout, the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. Jesus describes His return as coming on the clouds with great glory. He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet. True, the Thessalonians passage only mentions the archangel, but that does not mean the angels are excluded. They are merely not mentioned. In Revelation we see an angel (maybe the archangel) cry out with a loud voice. This corresponds very well with the shout of 1 Thes 4:16. In 1 Thes 4:16, it says that the Lord will descend with a shout. It does not necessarily mean the Lord is doing the shouting. It merely means that at the shout the Lord will descend. It fits perfectly with the Lord’s return in Rev 19:11-18. When would this catching-up in 1 Thes 4:17 occur then? After the tribulation.

Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:50-58 about the fact that we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye…at the last trumpet. When is this last trumpet? For the answer we need to go to the book of Revelation. The seventh trumpet gets sounded in Rev 11:15. This seventh trumpet could be the last trumpet, but even if it isn’t, can you see how far we are into the tribulation? If the rapture occurs at the last trumpet, then we will see at least some of the tribulation! Now, for the last trumpet, turn back to Mt 24:29-31. Do you now see that we are caught up after the tribulation?  First and Last things

In a series of numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), which is first and which is last? ‘1’ is first and ‘7’ is last. In a series of letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, G), which is first and which is last? ‘A’ is first and ‘G’ is last. In a race of runners, which one is first and which one is last? The runner who crosses the line first is first and the runner who crosses the line last is last. Can anyone else be first except the one who came first, or can anyone be last except the one who came last? No! Then how is it that when the Bible speaks of a first resurrection, some want to force other resurrections before the first resurrection? Also, how is it tht when the Bible speaks of the last trumpet, some want to force as much as seven (7) trumpets after the last trumpet?

Seven trumpets are introduced during the tribulation period (Rev 8-11). If the last trumpet had already sounded, then why were these ones introduced? We already know that Jesus mentioned a great trumpet at the end of the tribulation with His return (Mt 24:29-31). Paul writes about the last trumpet in 1 Cor 15:52. This last trumpet has to refer to the trumpet in Mt 24, because chronologically, the trumpet of Mt 24 is the latest, and is sounded after the tribulation.

Why would first mean anything but first in the first resurrection if in the other eight (8) times of usage before Rev 20, first means first? Try make first mean something else when Jesus is called “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17; 2:8); the Ephesians’ “first love” (2:4); John hearing again “the first voice” (4:1); the introduction of “the first creature” (4:7); the “first [angel] sounded” his trumpet (8:7); the second beast exercised “all the authority of the first beast” (13:12); the “first angel” poured out his bowl on the earth (16:2).

First also occurs after Rev 2:5-6. It still means first when “the first earth” passes away (21:1); the “first foundation stone” is jasper (21:19); Jesus is again called “the first and the last” (22:13). Why is the literal meaning of first never questioned by pre-tribulationists except in Rev 20:5-6?

Who is included in this first resurrection? According to pre-tribulationists only those who went through the tribulation since the others had to have been raptured before the tribulation. A casual reading of 20:4 seems to confirm this. Let’s look at this verse a little closer.

Most translations connect those who had been beheaded for their testimony and the word of God with those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, making them the same group. The Greek is a little more explicit here in that these translations translate the word hoitines (ὁιτινες) as if it was a definite relative pronoun, simply who.  There are other Greek methods to express such an idea. These methods are not used here though. hoitines is the plural masculine indefinite pronoun of the word hostis (στις), meaning whoever or everyone who. This pronoun differs in gender from the souls (psuchasψυχας – feminine word) mentioned earlier. Its relative should agree with it. If the same group was meant, then haitines (ἁιτινες) should have been used. So, two groups are mentioned here, translating as follows: “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and everyone who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand.” These groups are, then, the martyred Christians who made it right through the tribulation. The second group would include those who had been Christians from before the tribulation and those who became Christians after the tribulation had started. This accords well with 1 Cor 15:52, that “in the twinkling of an eye… the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” Therefore, the two groups of Rev 20:4 have this common experience called “the first resurrection.”

Of this joint change at “the first resurrection” John uses a verb in its aorist tense to mean, “they lived.” (Rev 20:4). Most translations again battle with this verse to give something like “and they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Examples of translations like this are the NASB and the NIV. However, both verbs are in the aorist tense and should read “and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Examples of translations like this are the ASV, KJV, New King James Version.

So, what is the point of 20:4? This “first resurrection” is not a resurrection for Christian martyrs of the tribulation only (ie. the rest had been raptured before the tribulation?). No, verse 4 speaks of two groups (tribulation martyrs and everyone, whether pre-tribulational or current-tribulational, who had not bowed their knees to the antichrist.) It was not just the martyrs who “came to life” (wrong translation), but both groups after the twinkling of an eye, lived and reigned with Christ.  Persecution, suffering and tribulation

The pattern has been set. Christ suffered and so will we. The Scriptures are clear that we have been called for this purpose, “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). When we suffer and we are treated harshly for doing wrong, no praise can be found in that, but only if we are so treated when doing right.

There is no Scripture that promises us that we will escape suffering, persecution and tribulation. Instead, we are told that we as Christians will endure the above. Persecution of Christians is happening in many countries all over the world. We can even see the beginning of persecution of Christians in the “free-est“ country in the world, the USA. Every now and again one or other group like the ACLU would try to test the law in some or other area against Christians. Currently (July 2001), the law is being tested against groups such as the Boy Scouts as the whether they have to appoint transsexuals onto their staff or leadership or not. More and more Christian beliefs are being pointed at as hate speech. These are merely the beginning of what later will become full-blown persecution. Do not think for a moment that George W. Bush, the US president will stop this trend.

Jesus remains our example in word and deed. Whether it is in following that example in doing righteousness, praying for the sick, loving our neighbour, or in suffering, we need to follow Him. As He suffered outside the gate of the city, so we need to bear His reproach outside the camp of this world (Heb 13:12-13). It is under this reproach that we must offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (v15).

If it happens that you are suffering for Christ, do not be surprised. This will become the norm for Christians in this world. Peter wrote to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. All of these areas make up what today is called Turkey. This letter can apply to the Christians there today. Currently, Christians are being persecuted there. He writes in 1 Pet 4:12-19 that they should “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (NASB). Peter writes this as if this is, and will be the natural way for Christians. It is in the degree that we share in the suffering of Christ that we should keep on rejoicing, because when Jesus is revealed in His glory we will rejoice with exultation. If the Spirit and glory of God rests on us, then we can perform great exploits for God! Perhaps… Rather, if the Spirit and glory of God rests on us we will be blessed if we are reviled for the name of Christ (v14).

Luke adds to this in Lk 6:22-23, that we are blessed when we are hated, ostracised, insulted, and our names being scorned as evil for the sake of Christ. We are to be exceedingly glad when this happens for our reward in heaven will be great.

When Jesus spoke about the tribulation He never said, “Look to the skies for I am coming to get you before someone hurts you.” No, He was clear that “they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Mt 24:9).

4. The Final Judgement and its punishment

4.1 The judgement

4.1.1 Scriptural evidence

[11]  Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.  [12]  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.  [13]  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.  [14]  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  [15]  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11-15 NASB)

There are several more passages from Scripture that teach the doctrine of a final judgement (Ac 17:30-31; Rom 2:5; Mt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 25:31-46; 1 Cor 4:5; Heb 6:2; 2 Pet 2:4; Jd 6).

4.1.2 How many judgements?

Dispensationalists would like there to be more than one judgement. It will fall well into their theology of distinctions. In their view there are up to three judgements.

(a) a “judgment of the nations” (Matt. 25:31-46) to determine who enters the millennium; (b) a “judgment of believers’ works” (sometimes called the bēma judgment after the Greek word for “judgment seat” in 2 Cor. 5:10) in which Christians will receive degrees of reward; and (c) a “great white throne judgment” at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:11-15) to declare eternal punishments for unbelievers.9

The Dispensational belief concerning Mt 25:31-46 is incorrect. This passage makes no mention of entering the millennium. When we look at verses 34, 41 and 46, we discover that this passage speaks of the final destinies of people whether they will receive eternal punishment or eternal life.

We believe that the passages that do speak of judgement at the end, all speak of the one final judgement.

4.1.3 The nature of the final judgement

First, the time of the final judgement is after the millennium and the last rebellion at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:1-11). Second, Jesus Christ Himself will be the judge (Mt 25:31-33; Jn 5:26-27; Ac 10:42; 17:31; 2 Tim 4:1). Third, it will be a judgement for unbelievers. Unbelievers will receive different degrees of punishment according to what they had done (Mt 11:22; Lk 12:47-48; 20:47; Rev 20:12-13). Every word and deed will be brought to light in this judgement (Eccl 12:14; Mt 12:36; Lk 12:2-3; Rom 2:16). Third, believers will also be judged (Mt 25:31-46; Rom 2:6-11; 14:10, 12; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 11:18; 20:12, 15). This judgement should not instil fear in the hearts of believers since this will be a judgement of bestowing differing degrees of reward. It is not a judgement that will affect the believers eternal destiny (Jn 5:24; Rom 8:1). At the time of the judgement of the believers, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Cor 4:5 ESV) To know that our own secrets will be disclosed at the judgement should motivate us to live godly lives. Even for believers there will be degrees of reward.

[12] Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,  [13]  each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.  [14]  If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  [15]  If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor 3:12-15 NASB)

Fourth, angels will also be judged (1 Cor 6:3; 2 Pet 2:4; Jd 6). Fifth, believers will be involved in the work of judgement (1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 20:4).

4.2 The punishment: HELL!

4.2.1 Conscious and eternal

Scripture teaches in several passages that there is a place where the wicked will endure eternal conscious punishment (Mt 25:30, 41, 46; Lk 16:22-24).

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Mt 25:46 NASB)

There are those who believe that there will be no such thing as an eternal punishment. Yet, the parallel here between eternal life and eternal punishment indicates clearly that both of these states will have no end.

[9] Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  [10]  he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  [11]  "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Rev 14:9-11 NASB)

If this is not a clear picture of the eternal conscious punishment of unbelievers, then I do not know what is!

4.2.2 A contrary view

Recently, even evangelical scholars started espousing what is called annihilationism. There are basically two views on annihilationism. First, annihilationism proper has the view that punishment will not be eternal, but “after the wicked have suffered the penalty of God’s wrath for a time, God will ‘annihilate’ them so that they no longer exist.10 Second, conditional immortality holds the view that immortality is only given to those who accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Those who die as unbelievers “do not have the gift of immortal life and at death or at the time of final judgment they simply cease to exist.11

Those who believe in annihilationism advance several arguments. First, they believe that those passages that speak of the destruction of the wicked imply that they will cease to exist after their destruction (Phil 3:19; 1 Thes 5:3; 2 Thes 1:9; 2 Pet 3:7). Second, they believe there is an inconsistency with eternal conscious punishment and the love of God. Third, they feel that sins committed in time and punishment for those sins that is eternal is disproportionate. Fourth, since eternal punishment of evil creatures will mean that these evil creatures will eternally exist in God’s universe. As a result, God’s universe will always be marred by evil.

In objection, when these Biblical passages speak of destruction, they do not necessarily have to imply annihilation. The word used for destruction in Phil 3:19 and 2 Pet 3:7 is apōleia (απωλεια) which is also used in Mt 26:8. In this passage a woman came to pour a very expensive ointment on Jesus’ head, to which the disciples asked Jesus, “Why this waste?” Here the word “waste” is the same as the word “destruction” in 2 Pet 3:7. Clearly, the ointment was not destroyed, since it could still be seen on the head of Jesus. In 1 Thes 5:3 and 2 Thes 1:9 the word for “destruction” is olethros (ολεθρος) which is also used in 1 Cor 5:5 of a man being delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. In this passage he was excommunicated and his flesh certainly was not annihilated after being put out of the church.

In objection to the so-called inconsistency between eternal punishment and God’s love, why would there then be any consistency between God’s punishment of people anywhere in the Bible and His love? If God could punish people at all—as clearly shown in Scripture—after the last judgement, there seems to be no inconsistency as to God’s eternal punishment of people.

In objection to the claim of disproportionate eternal punishment to sins committed in time, we have to acknowledge, that as humans we have absolutely no idea the extent of the evil done when sinners rebel against a holy God. Jeremiah Burroughs clearly understood the extent of sin’s effects and its vile-ness when he wrote that there is “more evil in sin than in all the miseries and torments of hell itself.12 The fact that God sent Jesus—His only Son—to die for us and to take sin upon Himself on the cross to pay for our sins, should in itself indicate to us the extent of the evil of sin.

Regarding the fourth claim of annihilists, we have to admit that the punishment of sin and evil in itself brings glory to God, since justice is done (Rom 9:22-24).

4.2.3 Last thoughts

Even though God will send the wicked to hell for eternity, He is in no way a vindictive God. However, God is just in all His ways.

…today’s church seems utterly to lack any notion of the profound evil of sin. We grieve over calamities. We are troubled by our miseries. The trials of life distress us. But are we equally disturbed by our sin? Do we believe that the least sin contains more evil than the least affliction? Few contemporary Christians, it seems, have ever entertained the thought that sin is that evil. [emphasis from the source]13

Hell is a very good indication of how serious sin is to God. If this is how He intends to punish sin, then surely we should look at our own sin in a very different light.

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezek 33:11 ESV)

God wants the wicked to repent. However, in no way will God let His justice not to be fulfilled. Those who die in their sin, unfortunately, will endure eternal punishment from a holy God.

5. New Heavens and New Earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Rev 21:1 ESV)

5.1 Heaven

The Bible frequently speaks of heaven. The Bible speaks of heaven more than 450 times.

Heaven is described by the Scriptures as a place. After Jesus had left the earth, the angels said “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Ac 1:11) Peter also wrote that Jesus had “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” (1 Pet 3:22). Just before Stephen’s death by stoning being full of the Holy Spirit, he “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Ac 7:55) Jesus also said that He was leaving to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2).

5.2 Earth

Several passages indicate to us from the Scriptures that creation itself will be renewed (Rom 8:19-21; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). Peter seems to indicate that the heavens and the earth will be completely destroyed before God gives us a new earth and new heavens (2 Pet 3:10). This may mean that the earth and the heavens will be changed completely from its present form of existence, and so it will be a renewed earth and heavens.

Index of Figures


Index of Tables



[1] Van der Merwe, Travers & Jewel, STRANGE FIRE: The Rise of Gnosticism in the Church, Conscience Press, Des Moines, IA, First Printing December 1995, p84.
Admittedly, Van der Merwe does say that under such circumstances “it would seem POSSIBLE that the individual is a FALSE PROPHET.”
[2] Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994, 1109-1113. I borrowed these pictorial representations of the different millennial beliefs from Grudem.
[3] Erickson, Millard J., Contemporary Options in Eschatology: A study of the Millennium, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Third Printing, May 1982, p109.
[4] Scofield, C. I.,D.D., Editor, 1843-1921, Editorial Revision Committee, 1967, English, Schuyler E., Litt.D., Chairman, Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1967, 1984 (NIV Edition), p3.
[5] Scofield, p3.
[6] Lahaye, Tim, Revelation Unveiled, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999, p99, 100.
[7] Moesta, Louis, The Crucible and the Crown: The Church in the Tribulation, WordFire Press, Monument, Colorado, p161.
[8] Vine, W. E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III. Lo-Ser, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey, Seventeenth Impression, 1966, p58.
[9] Grudem, p1141.
[10] Grudem, p1150.
[11] Grudem, p1150.
[12] MacArthur, John, The Vanishing Conscience, W Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 1995, p197. A quotation of The Evil of Evils by Jeremiah Burroughs (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992 reprint of 1654 original), 2-3.
[13] MacArthur, p198.
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